Consciousness/Awareness, the brain, and memories

(Q&A published recently in QUORA)

Q. ‘Why wasn’t my consciousness generated by another brain? Why am I linked with this brain?’

I heard that everybody experiences consciousness, but then why am I my consciousness and not another person’s consciousness? It’s hard to explain.

Paul Bush. Yes, it’s hard to explain. Basically it’s because the most important part of consciousness, which is awareness*, is the same for everybody. There is only one awareness, and in fact nothing else. All the other aspects of consciousness, the contents, are projections of awareness as it identifies with small parts of reality such as bodies and minds. Such misidentification creates a perspective. From each perspective the part of reality not identified with is seen as the external world. The observer with a particular perspective and the world observed as a consequence of that perspective are both inferences created at the moment of identification.

So, there is only one awareness that is continually pulled into the illusion of being this or that observer. The ongoing personal identity that we think of as ourselves maintains coherence through the construction of the concepts of time and space; memory and an apparent (though not total) physical separation from the rest of reality. Awareness has no personal identity, it is exactly the same for you and everyone else, because it is singular awareness that creates each experience depending on the perspective of the entity that it is identifying with.

*(AM Awareness and Consciousness are generally taken as equivalent in Advaita Vedanta – no distinction being made)

HC It’s kind of hard to imagine that out of all the infinite possible “selfs” there could have been, I was one of them.

And the reason I’m not experiencing two lives at once is because all phenomenon is unique. But the question of “how is my ‘self’ tied to physical matter?” Just can’t be completely answered. It’s just the way it is. This is why I believe that we are somewhat metaphysical or kind of spiritual. Do you believe in any kind of metaphysical link?

PS Many atheists, such as I, have a belief of a metaphysical link.

PB I guess I didn’t explain it clearly enough. I figured that might happen, cos it’s difficult to understand: There are not infinite selves, there is only one, the same for everyone. The details of what is experienced is determined by the perspective of the experiencer. This appears to be constant (at least for one lifetime) because of the continuity of memory. That’s why you don’t experience two lives at once, because the dynamics of each moment of experience entail the recall of previous moments – while awareness is identified with any one perspective the continuous function of memory gives continuity to the experience of that perspective. When awareness identifies with a different perspective there is a different set of memories giving the appearance of a different entity. You think you are the experiences, which are always different, but actually you are the awareness, which is always the same.

Your self isn’t tied to physical matter. Matter is a projection of awareness, determined by the perspective identified with. All the dependencies and connections that we are unconscious of appear as matter. Once we fully understand something, all it’s origins and consequences, we see that nothing is separate from anything else, “things”, matter, don’t exist, it’s just ignorance.

PB (to PS) I’m not sure what you mean by “metaphysical link”. For sure the physical is just a term we use for shared experience, a common lack of understanding of how everything fits together, a consequence of our misidentification with individual bodies and minds.

AM Awareness is meta-physical, the sole reality or Oneness, or ‘Self’, which is indefinable and unsublatable. Everything else – phenomena or appearances – are sublatable.

23 thoughts on “Consciousness/Awareness, the brain, and memories

  1. Martin,

    It’s an interesting exerpt to contemplate. I think PB’s description of how the brain (memory) creates a continuity of identification is sharp. What I can’t follow is his statement of Awareness projecting matter. Matter seems to be the content of Consciousness which the brain spins into an entity residing in Time and Space. If Awareness is projecting all this, then this projection is not different than Awareness. In other words, it is one process with nothing left over such as a Self, self. You could call this one process Self, because that is precisely what you are, not something apart from it. Once you begin to postulate a self, the trouble begins. Awareness or Consciousness cannot be separated from its content. It’s an endless loop and no amount of analysis can stop this identification with a self.

  2. Theories are illusions and this one is no exception. In actuality, ‘awareness’ which is wholeness and ‘identification’ which is limitation are mutually exclusive. A person is either living in awareness or in the limited self. Not both. So in daily living awareness is not the same for everybody.

  3. What person are you talking about? If you postulate a person, you are already separating the whole. Take away the sense of ‘person’, ‘self’, and there is no problem. Awareness and limited self only exist in your concepts. Identify with either and you miss the point. My two paisa……..

    • The person for example who goes as ‘anonymous’ who is different from others and is unclear about what I said. Take away the person called anonymous and there will be agreement with what I wrote!

  4. twopaisa,

    Wholy agree with what you write – and it is well and clearly expressed. Awareness is a fact, a reality, though it can ‘become’ just a concept when the reality behind the word (which last is a symbol) is not properly understood and thus limited (as it were) by the latter.

    The same goes with ‘person’ and ‘self’ – just symbols, though one needs quite a bit of advaitist doctrinal understanding in order to know what these words or symbols really mean – then one is not misled by their conventional meaning. It is the same with all words and concepts – they are only symbols. Indeed ‘persona’, from its etymology, means ‘mask’ – and that is precisely what the above two words (person and self) are from the advaita vedanta perspective, that is, at the higher level of understanding.

    • For just about everybody awareness is not a reality but the separate self is. So awareness is a theory, a romantic concept with no relationship to daily living. The self is not a symbol, if so we would say ‘a symbol is in love’, ‘a symbol is struggling in poverty without a job”, ‘a symbol has understood Advaita’, ‘a symbol has problems in relationships’, ‘a symbol is wanting liberation’. All symbols, doctrines, and theories are based on delusion. The theory of Advaita and expounding its benefits may be stimulating to the intellect but it altogether different from living in awareness. Delusions are most often stimulating to the mind which is why they are so popular under the guise of truth.

      • I wrote that awareness can ‘become’ just a concept… but it is not possible to deny its reality: it is a fact.

        Secondly, have you always been ‘living in awareness’? If you learned what that consists of from someone else, or from a book or several books, then before you gained that undertanding it was all theory (or doctrine) for you. Was it ‘based on delusion’?

        • Is awareness seeking to fulfill desires one after another? Is awareness anxiety? Is awareness taking shelter in various theories and doctrines? Is awareness achievement? Is awareness constant striving for more and more of anything? Is awareness suffering? Just to mention a few. So for whom is awareness a reality in daily living?

          Who said that I am living in awareness? And what is understanding? Is it parroting some theory because it appeals to the mind? Is understanding an achievement of the mind?

          • 1. It seems you did not understand what I said about a concept, by itself, being a symbol.
            2. The answer to the 7 questions you ask in the 1st para. is, from the perspective of advaita, No. Consciousness or awareness is the (unmoving, thus changeless,) substrate; thoughts, desires, etc. come and go – arise and subside – in consciousness.
            3. You yourself implied that your experience is that of ‘living in awareness’ (read what you wrote).
            4. I am not going to explain what ‘understanding’ means (yes, to he mind).

            • 1. Quite possible.
              2. What is the answer in daily life? Not from any perspective however narrow or exalted. “awareness is the substrate” and other such explanations are only mind projections. They are not a reality in daily life.

              3. I don’t see anything to that effect in what I wrote. But anything can be inferred by readers.

              4. The question is not raised for any reason other than to get a reality check.

  5. Why not include ‘living in Awareness’ with the delusions that stimulate the mind? Can anything really be separated from mind? Sometimes we have penetrating insights and unusual clarity about things. These oscillations between separation and wholeness, ignorance and understanding, are all mind induced. It’s all conceptual and leads to various experiences, high and low. This process of thinking helps create a subject that everything is happening to. You have no route out of this until you begin to see that there is no one there. That all experience is not happening to a ‘you’, a self.

    • Very true. Living in awareness is a delusion for most since the reality is living in the self. So called insights and confusions are also for the mind. To postulate that there is no one is also another theory in desperation to find a way out. Such tricks of the mind are merely different ways to be self sustaining, active, and alive.

      • twopaisa: It’s more like finding a way ‘in’ when the mind sees it is not capable of finding a way ‘out’. The reason I refer to a self or no-self in these conversations is because of the postulations of others about their being a self or Self and its realization. It has no reality for me. The only reality for myself is what you have just said, tricks of the mind (thinking), to sustain itself and its notions, to give the illusion that there is an entity living this life. The perspective changes at this point.

        Martin: It does sound like I’m implying that understanding is ‘mind-induced’. But it is not the mind that originates this ‘seeing’. It is more like the mind is informed by this seeing and this ‘information’, that there is no one there, becomes filtered through the mind for communication purposes. Just telling yourself all this is not what I’m talking about.

        Venkat: I don’t know anything about ‘living in awareness’. All I’m capable of doing is seeing the illusions that mind creates which includes all concepts. I don’t think there is a step out of it. It’s more like a step into it. You have to be able to contemplate what you call you, not to be rid of it, but to see what it is. You cannot substitute stillness for the movement of mind. It is the flip side. You have to contemplate the whole. This is where the slippery slope lies. Thoughts never disturb that stillness.

  6. Aren’t we all always living in awareness? But in this awareness arises a bundle of mistaken thoughts that ties this awareness of an individual, separate identification. So this conditioning of a separate self has to go. Now, we can learn and appreciate the concept that the separate self is an illusion, and advaita is one such pointer.

    But this is clearly different from living without any concept of a separate self. How this step is taken is the question. Bhagavan’s suggestion is to abide in stillness, and whenever thoughts arise to disturb that stillness, go back to see to whom those thoughts arise. As he was fond of saying, summa iru.

  7. “Aren’t we living in awareness?”. Really? Or is the mind spinning a theory that thoughts are running rampant only in awareness? Can darkness coexist with light?

    Do we really want to live without the self? Do we have any idea what it means? What are the implications of living without the self vis a vis my wife, my family, my property, my faith, my masters, my books, my friends, my favorite foods, my country, the best and most memorable moments in my life, and of course my salvation. How many really want to live without any of them (mentally)?

      • Is ‘my’ conceptual? So when my wife or son or someone I love dearly is fighting for his life, do I say it is conceptual? Or do I feel comforted by some blah blah about how everything is wonderful at the level of the substrate.

  8. The actual events in life are what they are and must be engaged. Everything else falls into reflection ‘about’ an event through memory, etc. Reflection is not action.

    Substrate is another conception. It might be useful at times for communication purposes. But, your point is well noted and I’m not disagreeing with what you are saying.

  9. Twopaisa – I’m not sure what your living in awareness means, if it is not what we are all doing. ‘I’ exist and I am aware that I exist. But the issue is what is this ‘I’? Is it really the separate body-mind that I assume it is, with its conditioned perspectives of the world – or is it just attribute-less awareness in which everything plays? And, as you say, and I have also noted previously, is one really prepared to give up, be detached from, all the attachments – wife, children, friends, career – that goes with this I. Which is why all these so-called enlightened teachers running around preaching advaita have not really understood the actual implications of what they teach.

    Of course the mind is terrified of this, and in any event, can’t will this. It may, or may not, happen. But Bhagavan’s / Nisargadatta’s recommendation to constantly abide in, and watch the ‘I’ sense perhaps makes it more possible for the ‘calamity’ to happen. In any event, the teaching that the ego is illusory, not real, is just a preliminary step, a pointer. After that, ‘you’ have to muddle through the rest – no one else can do it – and that is the ‘real work’, not the trivial understanding of a conceptual pointer.

    • I enclosed your statement in quotes. Nobody in his right mind would say he is living in awareness as some substratum in unalloyed bliss as consciousness etc etc. Yet that is the sort of stuff being dished out here and so I raised a question essentially whether folks were even aware it was all fancy theory or whether it was operational in daily living? I merely brought out what our typical daily life is about – anxiety, pursuit of endless desires, attachments etc. That is the I in daily life. It does not matter what the I was to some realized or fake master. The I is certainly not illusory to most people. The reality of my daily living must be dealt with. Instead there is a tendency to pursue delusion right from the outset by simply repeating ‘everything is awareness’ endlessly.

  10. twopaisa, so how do YOU deal with the reality of daily living?

    Don’t expect Advaitins (which I am not) who are heavily invested in its philosophy, to speak in plain language after spending years and years memorizing all the terms used in its texts. 🙂

    • That is easy to answer. Just like probably anyone else. Making adjustments in relationships, making compromises with desires, keeping frustrations from boiling over etc. Theories do come in handy here (and I have heard and read just about every theory at my age). It gives the mind some temporary stability until the next disaster strikes!

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